"Sacredness all around you" - a Conversation with Katy Bresette and Jerry Jondreau (Part 1)
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
For Katy Bresette and Jerry Jondreau, Dynamite Hill Farms is more than just a place where they farm and rear their children. It represents their efforts to live the Ojibwe culture and life that has existed in this area along Lake Superior for centuries.
A few miles southeast of Keweenaw Bay, Dynamite Hill Farms sits on traditional Ojibwe land. Both Jerry and Katy are part of the Lake Superior Chippewa (Ojibwe) tribe, with Jerry being a member of the Keweenaw Bay band and Katy a member of the Red Cliff band.
Just two years ago they discovered that Jerry’s great grandmother, who was a practicing medicine woman, lived on the farm’s land. “(The farm) had been on the market for years. Nobody wanted to buy it,” Katy said. “Jerry got to this place and it spoke to him. He understood something about this place.”
Katy Bresette giving a tour of the garden at Dynamite Hill Farms
Through the farm, Katy and Jerry sell two traditional Ojibwe foods – wild rice and maple sugar. This past spring they collected 90 gallons of sap from 563 maple trees in their sugar bush. In September of 2019, Jerry spent the month ricing in Minnesota on traditional Ojibwe territory, and he left the day after we spoke to do so again this fall.
Previously, Katy had worked as an Ojibwe educator, while Jerry worked at what is now the College of Forest Resources and Environmental Sciences at Michigan Tech in Houghton, MI. He recently left that job, however. “I took the leap and it was terrifying,” he said.
Traditional Ojibwe practices like maple sugaring and ricing take a great deal of time. “When you work a full time job, anybody, I don’t care who you are, society does not give us enough space to do those things anymore,” he said. “I was talking about the importance of doing these things, talking about the importance of being Ojibwe on this land, but I almost felt like I was being hypocritical because I could only be a weekend warrior. When I was done on Friday, or after work, I could run out and start up the evaporator real quick. It was so hectic, and I was so drained.”
But, Jerry added, “There has been this movement that’s been out there, that’s been very loud for some people. And I was one of those people – this calling back to the Earth, getting itchy and antsy, like I need to get out there. And it’s not just me. (Mother Earth) is calling us back home. And some of us are answering the call. I decided to answer the call last year. ‘I’m coming back, Mom. I’m coming back to you.’”
“I think that’s been happening more and more,” Jerry said. “With this whole discussion of climate change and these young kids growing up now with the internet, they see all these things happening... and they’re wanting something different, too. I think (the farm) is one of those alternatives. Let’s get back to the land. Let’s get back to the water. Let’s get back to our food. Let’s get back to our ceremony.”
Jerry motioned to the landscape around us, saying, “These forests, the trees, these plants, they are my relatives as well. So, as we get recycled with the nutrient cycles, my ancestors, my great grandmother who used to live back in those woods, her hair is part of that. Her skin that she shed is part of that. So, even on a much deeper level, these are my relatives. This is my family... Everything of me is going back into this place, too, that’s taking care of my kids and my grandkids. And everything we’re doing is to perpetuate this place as well.”
The sugar bush at Dynamite Hill Farms
Those interconnected relationships – between the land and water, humans and non-human beings – create a way of living that does not separate out culture and spirituality, according to Katy. “A lot of people have this real big misconception of culture and spirituality, and all of these other things that are these other levels and layers that have been added upon the fundamental relationships we have with each other.... Spirituality,” Katy said, “that’s an English term. We wouldn’t ever delineate and separate out our culture or our spirituality.”
Jerry emphasized that those relationships make it possible for humans to survive. “The only reason why we can exist is because of the generosity of everything else that exists here. If you understand life like that, you can see the sacredness all around you."
Educating others about those fundamental relationships and connections in life, within the context of the Ojibwe culture, is a key mission of Dynamite Hill Farms. Katy and Jerry often host people who want to help out and experience the farm. “Through the education and experiential operation that we have here, hopefully we can reach more people in doing that. Some people are going to naturally gravitate to different things that we do here. We give them that space to go explore, and maybe they’ll teach us things, too.”
Near the end of our time together, their youngest daughter walked by eating an apple that she just picked from one of the trees on the farm. Jerry looked at her and said, “That really comes down to relationships again. She’s going to have a relationship to this place that is sacred.”
Part 2 of the conversation with Katy and Jerry will be published next week.